Archive for the ‘purebred dogs’ Category

These dogs are harlequin pinschers.

They are a strain of pinscher that was developed in Germany but became defunct because of real health problems that were popping up in the various litters.

The problem with this breed is that it was entirely made up of merle individuals. Although one can breed merle to merle and produce healthy puppies, it is also possible to produce double merles that have either deaf or blind or are born with no anuses, ear canals, or eyes.  However, it is possible to breed merle to merle and have no problems.

Not all double merles are so afflicted, and it does not seem to appear in all breeds in exactly the same numbers.

But it still isn’t wise to have an entire breed made up of merles.

The breed was recognized by the FCI in 1958, but as far as I know, there are no “true” harlequin pinschers left.

The coloration most likely came from crossing with dachshunds, which are famous for their dapple or “tiger” markings. (Dapple dachshunds are called “tiger dachshunds” in Germany.)

Both the standard and miniature pinscher breeds do not come in merles.

However, there are people who are breeding merle pinschers. They are crossing small merle rat terriers with minpins, and then breed the rat terrier features out.

My understanding is the preferred coloration for the harlequin pinscher was the peculiar merling we see in the harlequin Great Dane. That is probably the trickiest coat color to breed for, and one really must have a good understanding of the genetics to produce a healthy one.

The mistake was to breed for the merle coloration alone in the harlequin pinscher. There  was a poor understanding of the need for outcross colors, and the potential for producing double merles with defects was simply too great.

That’s why the harlequin pinscher followed the English white terrier into extinction.

There was simply a poor understanding of coat color and health issues.

Maybe the recreated harlequin pinscher breeders will pay more attention to this issue.

Let’s hope so, because the fad in minpins, as it is in so many breeds, is to get an unusual color.

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If one looks at the basenji, one sees what should be a tough little dog, free of exaggeration in conformation or type. It looks like it had been entirely selected by the processes of natural selection.

Although capable of barking, it very rarely does so, and when it does, it is just a short little woof. In this regard, it is very much like the wolf or the dingo.  The bitches have one heat cycle per year.

It is almost like a wild animal, so one would think that there wouldn’t have been a healthier breed to own.

Unfortunately, all that you have just read is nothing more than an appeal to nature fallacy. All the natural appearances are superficial.

Basenjis in the West are just like any other breed of dog. They have a limited number of foundational sires, and when one gets involved in producing quality dogs for the show ring, the tendency is to use just a few members of the population to produce offspring. With a closed studbook, all sorts of new hereditary problems began to surface.

But unlike other breeds of dog, the basenji started out with a very small population in the West.  Just 18 or 19 dogs founded the original basenji population. That is a pathetically small number on which to found an entire breed.

By the late 1980’s, basenjis were in a lot of trouble. In 1989, Dr. Russell Brown of Virginia Commonwealth University sent a letter to the AKC Board explaining why the basenji needed to have its studbook reopened.

The AKC eventually opened the studbook to allow new blood to be imported from the Congo. This is actually where the brindle coloration that has popped up in the basenji came from.

It is often mentioned that basenjis are quite common in Africa. One must be careful with such assertions, because basenjis have peculiar traits that are actually not that common in the African pariah dog population. This needs to be repeated, for there are assumptions that just about African village dog with prick ears and a curled tail is a basenji.

It ain’t so.

This is not a contrived breed. It’s not like the West Highland white terrier, the golden retriever, and the Norfolk terrier, which have all been separated from their closest relatives on what amounts to little more than superficial reasons.

This is an actual landrace that is native to Central Africa. It may superficially resemble other pariah dogs that are found in other parts of Africa.

But those dogs bark a lot and the bitches have two heat cycles per year. From what I’ve seen, most of these dogs really don’t have the curled tails of the show basenji or even loosely curled tails that one sometimes sees on African basenjis.

Any population of dogs that rarely barks and has but one heat cycle per year is clearly different from other dogs, no matter how one looks at it. These dogs are physically and behaviorally unique.

To rejuvenate the bloodline, African dogs indeed were allowed in. These dogs had the same traits that we associate with dogs of this type, and some of the health problems are indeed being mitigated.

But what the basenji story actually tells us is what happens when we allow just a tiny population of dogs to found a breed and then close off the studbook.

Basenjis were nearly ruined through such an extreme genetic bottleneck. They may yet be redeemed through these African imports. I certainly hope so, for the basenji is such a unique dog that I think it is very much worth preserving.

Its unique characteristics give us insight into what the early dogs might have been like. The inheritance of its barklessness was actually tested by Fuller and Scott, when they crossed basenjis with cocker spaniels. It turned out that barking was a dominant trait, but the number of barks that a basenji/cocker will give is still somewhat lower than that of a pure cocker. That study suggested that the constant barking trait that so characterizes other dogs could have easily been transmitted through the populations of domestic dogs very early on.

And all of these genetic disorders certainly do give us something else to examine.

The African dogs lived very well for thousands of years. They evolved to fit a particular task and a particular climate. But when our dog culture picked them up, things just didn’t turn out that well.

Maybe the future will be better for these African “barkless dogs.” But we have to be very careful about these registries. We don’t need to ensure the genetic viability and general health of all of these dogs. We have to start thinking in such a way for all of these dog breeds.

If we don’t, the potential exists for even more problems like the basenji was facing in the 1980’s. In fact, this potential is almost a certainty if we don’t starting thinking differently.

Dogs are organisms, but our cultural backage winds up having major effects upon them, whether we like it or not. Our inability to understand them as organism with need for sustainable gene pools is a major problem for the long term viability of the domesticated form of C. lupus.

If we could just start thinking this way, maybe we could have a better future for dogs.

But we have to change our dog culture, and that is going to take time.


Basenjis are hardly the most extreme case. The Norwegian lundehunds (the polydactyl puffin hunting dogs) are derived from just six dogs that survived a distemper outbreak that happened during the Second World War. All of these dogs have the genetics to develop an extremely debilitating set of digestive disorders called lundehund gastroenteropathy in which digestive bacteria grow out of control, preventing the dogs from deriving nutrients from food.  Some dogs never develop symptoms, but others eat and eat and never get enough nutrients.

Open registries are not the solution for all problems solving dogs. Lots of things have to be done to solve these problems. Opening registries alone will not save them in the end. However, if we don’t open them, we will be doing very little to solve the macro-level problems that are making breed after breed less healthy.

The registry issue is systemic, which means that it is sometimes harder for people to understand. It is also the biggest sacred cow in the fancy– purity for purity’s sake. To even suggest that this problem is the greater systemic problem in dogs is a great heresy.

But not everyone in the fancy is entirely in love with it. I think the number of people who love dogs as dogs in the fancy is much larger than you might assume from reading this blog or others.

Within the fancy itself, there are people who want something better and who are articulating it and pushing for it.

Bit by bit, change will come.

For those of you who want a better future for dogs, please know that you’re not alone. It’s starting to happen.

In the public consciousness, the AKC doesn’t mean what it once it did. When people think AKC, they think of unhealthy purebred dogs. It doesn’t mean golden. It means gilded.

That’s a major branding problem.

It’s one I’m sure the AKC doesn’t want to have.

It’s also why the AKC is losing out market share the paper mill registries. If the AKC is just a paper mill, then why can’t Jim Bob down the road start his own?

In the end, we have no quality control or consumer protection institution for dogs in the United States.

We are lost.

We have to do this research for ourselves, which, thanks to Google, means that it isn’t as hard as it once was.

But I still think we need some kind of body, even at the breed and function-based level, to have some sort of regulating or quality control influence over breeders. I’m not in favor of new laws. I’m in favor of a better system in which dog people regulate themselves.

We need an open registry system, but we don’t need one in which people are inclined to do crazy crosses just for the hell of it.

And that’s my dilemma.


In case you were getting ready to dispute me on whether basenjis can bark:


I wonder whether living around “normal” dogs has any effect on that behavior. I remember reading about some wild-caught wolves that were kept in a kennel with lots of barking domestic dogs. The younger wolves in the pack started barking like dogs.

Barking does have a learned component to it. I knew a Dalmatian that joined a household that included a mongrel beagle. This beagle had a tendency to great everyone with a baying howl.

After about two weeks, the Dalmatian was trying to make that noise– very unsuccessfully.

Maybe some basenjis are learning let loose a few barks here and there  just to fit in.

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In both northern and southern elephant seals, only a few males produce offspring ever year. The bulls lay claim to a stretch of beach and then claim as many cows as possible.

And yes, it really must suck to be a cow elephant seal.  During this time of her life, she continually being herded by males much larger than she is. And never mind the mechanics of their reproduction. She is a large seal, but she is significantly smaller than the male.

If you’re an elephant seal bull, you must be big and nasty if you are to reproduce. Only one in ten males manages to reproduce. That is an astoundingly low number:


These selective pressures on the elephant seal species have resulted in a favoring of bull seals that are the equivalent of the most-used sire effect in many breeds of purebred dog.

The northern elephant seal nearly went extinct. Its population may have dropped to only 100 individuals. Today, there are 100,000 northern elephant seals, and because of their particular breeding arrangement, very few males pass on their genes every generation.

It is very similar to what has happened in many purebred dogs, and I’m sure that some will suggest that if the northern elephant seals are able to have a healthy population, then it should be okay to breed dogs in this fashion.

The problem with that logic is that we actually don’t know the full consequences of the extreme genetic bottleneck on the northern elephant seal. Because they lack genetic variation, it is possible that an epidemic or even a slight environmental change could prove disastrous for the seals.  In normal populations, genetic diversity means that some animals will have some resistance to potential changes in the environment or infectious disease. However, if all the seals are genetically quite similar, they may all be similarly susceptible to these problems, which means they could all die off.

Again, the fact that it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean that it can’t.

The other thing is elephant seals are under the pressures of natural selection. Dogs really aren’t. Really defective seals don’t live very long. They wind up in the bellies of orcas or great whites. Truly defective elephant seals don’t reproduce. With dogs, we can continue to select for defect, intentionally or unintentionally. We can select for a whole range of disorders and not even know it until a third the dogs in any given breed have them.  (That is only slight hyperbole.)

One of the delusions we have is that we think we can just selectively breed out disease without actually realizing that we’re dealing with a dynamic genome.  I’m not in favor of breeding dogs with disease. Don’t get me wrong.

But unless we look at the whole system that leads to an accumulation of these diseases, we are doomed to failure. It is quite literally little more than rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic to think we can just cull for this disease or that one and not realize that the problem is much more systemic than peculiar.

Nature has done what it can to save northern elephant seals. Considering how these animals breed, I would certainly have wanted to have started with a larger founding population than 100 to 1,000 individuals.

But we didn’t get that choice.

With dogs, we have that opportunity, but it remains denied to us, simply because we cannot change our thinking.

As I’ve said before, the human ego is probably the most destructive part of the relationship between man and dog.

We are the so-called rational species, and in this relationship, we’re supposed to be the responsible ones.

But for all of our intelligence, we have failed our dogs.

And it’s something we need to think about.

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I don’t know how to say it any better.

This is a ZING!


BTW, as per that Washington Post story, Raymond Coppinger is wrong.

There were golden retrievers before the 1st Baron Tweedmouth founded his line.

They just weren’t called that.

They were usually called drowned as soon as they were born.

The 1st Baron Tweedmouth was merely a person who founded a line of them, and that line begat three lines of yellow flat-coated retriever that eventually founded a separate breed.

I know that for literary purposes we say that Lord Tweedmouth founded the golden retriever, but I think we have to be careful in our language. This isn’t exactly what we mean. We actually mean what was written in the previous paragraph.

I think we put a bit too much emphasis on the Guisachan story, and we ignore the years between the last of those and when the breed became distinct from the flat-coat. The golden retriever must be understood as being part of the wavy-coated and flat-coated retriever breeds during this time. They were evolving within that breed’s framework. Ignoring that context makes us fail to understand the breed’s history in very fundamental way.

I don’t think it’s wrong to look at the Guisachan story, but it’s not the totality of the golden retriever’s history. We have to understand the history of retrievers, especially the history of Labrador and flat-coated retrievers, if we are to every really get a grasp on where the golden retriever came from and where it is going.


I believe it was the 1st Viscount Harcourt (the owner of the Culham line) who first coined the term “golden retriever” for the dogs some time in the early twentieth century.

It’s really not an ancient term.

It’s also pretty good marketing, if you ask me.

I don’t know how far the breed would have gone if it had been called “Tweedmouth’s retriever.”

And if it had remained within the flat-coated breed, it probably would have experienced the population crash that the flat-coat experienced in the Interwar period.

It probably would have disappeared entirely, for yellow coloration was never in favor in flat-coats or any other breed of retriever.

The golden dogs would have gone the way of the fawn-colored Scottish deerhounds, which no longer exist at all, or maybe  the way of drop-eared Skye terriers, which are a very rare part of an increasingly rare breed.

Separation does have its advantages.

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These dogs will really be  of great use to man.

They surely can catch any criminal who tries to get away.

Of course, the criminal must be trying to get away by the slowest means possible. Perhaps if the criminal decided to crawl away,  the dog might stand a chance of catching him.

I don’t know how this stance and gait got to be beautiful.

It’s not.

It’s actually quite ugly and disheartening.

When I think of this breed, I think of Rin Tin Tin. Tough, intelligent, always out to serve law and justice. Not afraid to draw a hard line. The Gary Cooper of dogs.

Of course, I must admit that as breed, I’ve never much liked them. It’s nothing personal. Because they also remind me of something else– movies about the Holocaust. I shouldn’t blame the dogs. I should blame the people who used them to guard to guard the death camps. I know it’s guilt by association.

I’m sorry if that’s the image that I get when I think of them.

But after watching these dogs with ataxic gaits try to walk, something else comes to mind: people are morons.

I can’t believe that anyone would think that breeding for such a defect would be beautiful or even functional.

But then I’m outside the fancy that exists for the German shepherd dog.

Perhaps they are seeing something I am not.


I hope they have some justification for breeding for this gait and stance. Something beyond looks.

It is one of the curses of being visual species. Things that look novel are attractive to us.

However, when we start breeding dogs for appearance alone, this is the tendency that winds up wreaking havoc.

If we are going to breed better dogs, we’ve got to get some control over this tendency. Otherwise, the dogs have no future. They will be prisoners to our capricious visual whims.

And that is a scary prospect.

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Miley and I went a long walk today. The temperature was perfect for a human.

But it was a bit hot for a young golden retriever who is still in her winter coat.

So she decided it was a good idea to cool off in a mud puddle. It may have been disgusting to us, but it absolutely wonderful for her. Look at the expression on her face!

This behavior is something one should consider before getting a golden retriever. They like getting very dirty. Usually, it is only to keep themselves cool, but I think they also like having mud on their fur.

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8 P.M (EST)  tonight on BBC America.

Don’t have that channel?

Check it out on youtube:


To watch the others, just click the video’s title as it is embedded on this page, and it will take you to the original youtube video. The others will appear as related videos.

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The old-type peke looked a lot like a Tibetan spaniel (compare: http://www.petside.com/breeds/assets_c/2009/01/tibetan-spaniel-thumb-334xauto-291.jpg)

The old type peke looked a lot like a Tibetan Spaniel (compare: http://www.petside.com/breeds/assets_c/2009/01/tibetan-spaniel-thumb-334xauto-291.jpg)

I’ve noticed a common tactic among those who defend the status quo in the dog world is to try to paint their critics as being in league the animal rights extremists. I’m not talking the nice vegans with whom I disagree on certain issues.

I’m talking about the people who support terrorism, theft, and vandalism in the name of liberation. I’m also talking about those who would rather tell other people how to live, rather than working together to try to find ways to reduce animal suffering. (Temple Grandin is a very good example of someone who actually does this work to improve the lives of livestock.)

I’ve always thought liberation was a nebulous term. After all, a Marxist sees liberation rather differently than a libertarian, and in that comparison, I’m talking about two members of the same species.

One can only imagine what liberation would mean to dog, a cat, a hamster, or hippopotamus. Of course, that assumes that these animals know what their liberation means at all.

I’ve known horses that were raised in stables that seem perfectly okay with that lifestyle.  It is all they have ever known. When such horses are released into a pasture, they seem lost and certainly don’t act as if they are free. It’s only when they return to a barn stall that seem to feel comfortable again.

That said, I do oppose any intentional animal suffering that is necessarily prolonged. The wold is full of suffering. We all experience it.  All species feel pain, suffer, and die. The only thing enlightened and moral people can do is reduce suffering. Veganism is one way to do this. However, it will never become the universal diet of the planet. I don’t do well without meat in my diet. I’ve been at my happiest and healthiest when I reduced my carbohydrate intake and embraced the hunter-gatherer blood coursing through my veins.

The way I justify these two apparently contradictory notions that lie deep within my ethical sense is that I take a Benthamesque approach. I don’t do it exactly as Peter Singer did. I am willing to tolerate a certain amount of suffering and pain so that I can live, but the main goal is to reduce it. I particularly am more opposed to actions that result in prolonged pain and suffering than those that cause the animal suffering for just a very short time.

And for that reason, I can tolerate foxes held in leg hold traps (especially those that have been designed not to damage the fox’s foot) far better than I can tolerate breeding dogs with conformation that makes their whole lives miserable. That fox feels discomfort only for the last few hours of his live, because in most states, the traps must be checked daily. A pekingese that cannot cool itself properly suffers for a longer period of time than that fox does.  The peke suffers from excess heat through its entire life, while the fox got to be wild and free for most of its life.

The animal rights people may have locked onto the issues of purebred dogs.  On some issues, they are correct. On others, I respectfully disagree.

You see, the animal rights lobby doesn’t have the institutional power that the dog fancy has right now. The animal right lobby does have some victories, usually in the industrial farming sector, but in stopping hunting, meat consumption, and dog showing they haven’t been that successful.

In Europe they have been more successful in stopping hunting and even stopping reasonable farming practices (like the use of sheepdogs!), but that happens because most European countries (with the exception of the Nordic countries) have had a long history in which hunting rights were the realm of only the very wealthy. In the US, the hunting culture is more egalitarian, and thus, you don’t have the major center-left parties siding with the animal rights lobby.

In comparison, the purebred dog fancy does everything it can to ensure that reforms never take place here. The registries must operate closed stud books, and breed purity is everything. Those who do try their best to breed for health are often confronted with a general loss of genetic diversity and the sudden appearance of new genetic disorders that were previously unrecognized. Breeders who go outside the strictures of the fancy are pilloried.

It’s because of all of this that I am more outraged by the dog fancy than I am outraged by the animal rights people. I might make common cause with the animal rights lobby on this issue, and I hope that meat-eaters and vegans can at least agree on trying work together to reduce animal suffering. I’m with them on that one, but on the issues of banning hunting, dog-ownership, and the consumption of meat,  I’m definitely not singing off their page.

However, if you group me with the really nutty animal liberationists out there, you are setting up a straw man. And that’s one argument tactic I find particularly exasperating.

The dog fancy defenders like to portray everyone who opposes them as existing within the framework of either being with them or with the animal rights extremists. It’s a nice dualism, and in highly dualistic, melodramatic culture, this narrative certainly helps their cause.

However, the real world is always more complex than this narrative. The world exists in shades of gray, not clearly defined bands of black and white.

And that’s why it’s a mistake to assume those who want a better system for breeding dogs are also in league with those who want to ban dog ownership. It’s called nuance, and it’s something that is apparently much harder for people to see than I thought.

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Trip the Chesapeake

The answer to the question I asked last night is that it this dog was a Chesapeake Bay retriever. The illustration comes from John Henry Walsh’s The Dogs of Great Britain, and Other Countries (p. 121).

The dog’s name was Trip.  He was owned by C. H. Tilghman of Easton Maryland.  This particular dog won “first premium” at a dog show in New York in 1877.

Walsh often got things wrong, but his description of the three types of Chesapeake that existed in the 1870’s is very interesting:

As there now appears to be three types of this dog, the members of the Maryland Poultry and Fancier’s Association, at their first show, held at Baltimore, January, 1877, appointed a committee to draw up a standard of points for judging. On the evening of January 8, 1877, they met the members of the club, and made their report, which was adopted. The committee consisted of the following gentlemen (each representing their respective type): Mr. John Stewart, representing the Otter breed, in color a tawny sedge, with very short hair; Mr. O. D. Foulks, the long-haired, or Red Winchester, and Mr. J. J. Turner, Jr., the curly-coated, in color a red-brown – the bitches showing the color and approximating to the points of the class to which they belong, a white spot on the breast in either class not being unusual. The measurements were as follows: from fore toe to top of back, 25 inches; from tip of nose to base of head, 10 inches; girth of body back of fore leg, 33 inches; breast, 9 inches; around fore feet, 6 inches; around fore arm below shoulder, 7 inches; between eyes, 2 1/4 inches; length of ears, 5 inches; from base of head to root of tail, 35 inches; tail, 16 inches in length; around muzzle below the eyes, 10 inches.

The Otter-type is the one that wound up taking over the Chesapeake breed. Long-haired (“Red Winchester”) and curly-coated varieties have since disappeared in the standardized form. (However, long-haired Chessies do pop up every once in a while.)

I found it interesting that there were some different guesses on the identity of this dog.

The best diagnostic feature of the Chessie is that its topline is usually not level– “hindquarters as high or a trifle higher than the shoulders,” says the AKC standard.

The long hair may have come from the way-coated retriever, which was evident in the US at this time, or it may have inherited some long-haired genes from the odd long-haired St. John’s water dog. Collie-types and setter-types could have also played a role in producing some long-haired dogs. The Irish water spaniel is also a possibility.

Yes, this is yet another breed that had a bit more diversity before it became fully standardized.

Update: Does anyone know of any good books or websites on the history of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever?

In case you didn’t know, this is what they look like today: show chessie


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George Sussex Spaniel

This depiction of a Sussex spaniel comes from John Henry Walsh’s Dogs of Great Britain, America, and Other Countries.

This book was originally published in the nineteenth century, and this depiction shows what a working Sussex looked like back then.

It is definitely a myth that they always had very, very short legs. Like the dog in my earlier post.

The dog in this depiction is most likely what Mr. Fuller wanted. He was interested in a somewhat shorter-legged spaniel that could work the undergrowth better.

Of course, once the breed became a show dog, breeding for the short legs got out of control.

And that wound up hurting them in the long run.

I still think they might be saved as a pet dog. I mean they are very different in appearance from most other breeds of gun dog, and they do have rather cute puppies.

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